A provision in District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton’s employment contract requires him to pay $25,000 to cover a search for his replacement in the event that he leaves the job in Evanston before his contract expires.

Last week, Horton officially accepted an appointment to become superintendent of DeKalb County Public Schools in Georgia, just outside Atlanta. His first contract with District 65 was set to end June 30, 2023, which would have matched up with his July 1, 2023, start date in DeKalb.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton
District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton. Credit: ETHS YouTube

But he and the school board negotiated a new contract in March 2022, which extended his employment until June 30, 2026. The agreement mandates that Horton pay $15,000 or $25,000 if he terminates his employment ahead of time, depending on the amount of warning provided to the district.

Because his April 19 hire date in DeKalb was fewer than 180 days before the end of the current school year, he will owe $25,000.

“In the event of unilateral termination with less than one-hundred-eighty (180) days’ notice or an effective date not at the end of the school year, the Superintendent shall pay to the Board, as liquidated damages, TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND AND NO/100 ($25,000.00) DOLLARS, which relates to much of the aggregate costs to the Board of the search to obtain the Superintendent’s successor and any interim replacement,” Horton’s employment contract with the district states.

“The payment of liquidated damages by the Superintendent under this paragraph shall be the Board’s exclusive remedy for any claims of breach of this Contract due to the Superintendent’s unilateral termination.”

In fall 2021, after longtime Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon announced his retirement, effective June 30, 2022, the ETHS board hired Alma Advisory Group to assist in the search for Witherspoon’s replacement. Alma charged ETHS $25,000 for its services.

“It is the District’s intention to adhere to its current contract with Dr. Horton and its provisions related to early termination,” District 65 Communications Specialist Hannah Hoffmeister told the RoundTable in a statement.

After being hired by the board in DeKalb earlier this month, Horton said he wanted to spend time meeting with community leaders, district officials and families this spring before his first official day on the job.

In addition to the $25,000 payment requirement, Horton’s contract in Evanston also says that he can participate in speaking engagements outside District 65 “on an occasional, short-term basis.”

“The Board president shall be notified of the nature of the outside activities, which shall not interfere with the performance of the Superintendent’s duties,” the contract says.

School board President Sergio Hernandez did not respond to multiple emails from the RoundTable asking if Horton needs permission to visit DeKalb on school days this spring, or if there is a plan in place for if and when Horton does take days off for engagements in Georgia.

At this time, it remains unclear if Horton would have to forfeit pay for any missed days this spring. He also has not said if he has any concrete plans to spend time in DeKalb before his start date of July 1, or if he would leave only on weekends for meetings there.

“I will serve as superintendent in District 65 through June 30, 2023, and am committed to working closely with our school board and district leadership team to support a smooth transition,” Horton wrote in a letter to Evanston families posted April 19.

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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